Europe Aids Exodus
BRUSSELS — European governments deployed warships and military aircraft Thursday to evacuate their citizens trapped in civil-war-torn Libya, and began to turn their focus to fears of mass migration of Libyan refugees.
Germany sent three warships carrying some 600 troops to Libya to evacuate its citizens, a defense ministry spokesman said. The French Defense Ministry said 556 French citizens have been repatriated using the Esterel squadron of transport aircraft.
The U.K. warship HMS Cumberland arrived in the city of Benghazi, as Prime Minister David Cameron’s government responded to pressure at home for failing to move more quickly enough to evacuate Britons. Clashes between protesters and forces loyal to leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi have left well over 1,000 people dead, say human-rights groups, but no firm figure exists.
Mr. Cameron also announced that a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules had departed from Tripoli for Malta with 65 aboard, including 52 British passengers. The U.K. government called a special meeting of its emergency Cobra security cabinet. Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the prospect of sending in special forces to extricate U.K. nationals isn’t being ruled out.
“We will be doing everything we can,” Mr. Fox told Sky News. “We will move military assets to assist what is happening in that civilian effort as much as we can.”
The European Union had said earlier in the week that some 10,000 European Union nationals were in Libya, mainly working in the oil industry.
Turkey continued its large-scale evacuation effort, after landing two ferries with 3,000 passengers a day earlier. Foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Thursday that more than 7,000 Turks had made it back since Saturday, including 4,000 evacuated by air.
He said seven charter flights were expected to land in Istanbul on Thursday, from Tripoli, as well as Alexandria in Egypt and Djerba in Tunsia, as some of the estimated 25,000 Turks living and working in Libya crossed into neighboring countries to escape the fighting.
Russians evacuated from Libya on emergency flights told local media of days of uncertainty, demonstrations and the sounds of gunfire.
“There was real shooting, especially after 5 p.m. In some parts of town, there was bombing. Where I lived, next to the military airfield, was really scary,” Anna Kazaryan, a Russian resident of Tripoli, told a Moscow radio station after her return. “We put down all our shades, turned off our lights. For three or four days, the majority of our people didn’t sleep.”
Ms. Kazaryan said Internet service was cut off and cell phones worked only a few hours a day. “The first few days there were demonstrations and the Gadhafi supporters chanted their slogans and the opposition chanted theirs. But when they really started killing anything that moved on the streets, it became much more like a war.”
She said there was no sign of instability even just a few months ago. “You got the sense that they all adored their leader,” she said.
In Brussels, a senior official said Thursday the EU is preparing contingency plans for the use of military assets as part of a humanitarian intervention or to evacuate its citizens.
There have been calls from European politicians for the international community to impose a no-fly zone over parts of Libya to protect civilians. EU officials said it is too early to talk about particular actions at this stage. U.S. officials have said they are looking into several ways to penalize Col. Gadhafi’s regime with sanctions but that imposing a no-fly zone appears to be a less-likely option.
Officials also said that there hasn’t been a decision yet on taking sanctions against Libyan authorities. On Wednesday, the European Commission said it stood ready to take further measures against Libya while French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the EU to move swiftly to impose sanctions on those responsible for violence.
One EU official said the situation on the ground remains very confused and Brussels has had almost no contact with the Libyan regime in recent days. The official reiterated the international community’s call for Col. Gadhafi to stop using violence against civilians but said the chances of the Libyan leader stepping back from confrontation seem “very distant.”
While much of the focus Thursday was on speeding up evacuation efforts, regional officials remained concerned about large outflows of migrants from Libya.
Another EU official said there was little evidence that people leaving Libya were headed directly for the EU but said thousands have exited the country for Tunisia and Egypt. He said the EU has plans at the ready for a bloc-wide response if the inflow of migrants surges.
The International Organization for Migration estimates there are 1.5 million irregular migrants in Libya, from across Africa and Asia. The IOM reported that several thousand Tunisians had crossed the border from Libya back to their own country in recent days, alongside some Lebanese, Turks and Syrians.
In an interview with daily newspaper Il Corriere Della Sera on Wednesday, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he feared an exodus of migrants. Mr. Frattini said that if the Libyan political system falls and a power vacuum ensues, as many as 300,000 Libyans could try to leave their country.
Source: The Wall Street Journal | 24 Feb 2011